Although one often thinks of Jaco Pastorius' first solo album as being 1976's Jaco on Epic, producer/keyboardist Paul Bley actually gave Pastorius his first chance to lead a recording two years earlier. Coincidentally titled Jaco, this spontaneous set (which has been reissued on CD) is also significant for being among guitarist Pat Metheny's first recordings; completing the quartet are Bley on electric piano and drummer Bruce Ditmas. The music consists of three songs by Bley, five from Carla Bley, and "Blood" by Annette Peacock. Pastorius sounds quite powerful, but Metheny's tone is kind of bizarre, very distorted and not at all distinctive at this point.
Ballads, which really seems to make ballads out of ballads, has been considered both worthy of hanging on the museum wall alongside the other masterpieces and being accorded special merit as the jazz record most used for background music. Since no less a genius than the great French composer Erik Satie invented the concept of background music, this might not be such a contradiction or insult. Only the short "Circles" invites a real comparison with the piano music of Satie; elsewhere you're in extremely extended territory, Paul Bley's desire to play the slowest music in history meshing with a new style of rhythm section accompaniment that sounds like everything from tuning the drums to adjusting the drapes.
Pianist Paul Bley was touring Scandinavia with a quartet made up of longtime associate Gary Peacock on bass and two brilliant British musicians, drummer Tony Oxley and John Surman on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, when they made this Oslo recording in 1991. Rather than a conventionally organized quartet session, the CD consists of seven largely improvised solos, three duets, and two tracks–the collectively improvised "Interface" and Surman's "Article Four"–with the full quartet. Even more unusual is the frequent emphasis on bass frequencies and slow, even solemn, tempos. Only extraordinary musicians could keep such a format interesting, and these four do, exploring room resonance with almost ceremonial levels of concentration.
This 1987 date teams the iconoclastic pianist with guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Paul Motian, and British saxophonist John Surman. While it's easy to argue that, with Manfred Eicher's icy, crystalline production, this was a stock date for both the artists and the label, that argument would be flat wrong. Bley was looking for a new lyricism in his own playing and in his compositions. He was coming from a different place than the large harmonies offered by augmented and suspended chords and writing for piano trios. The other band members – two other extremely lyrical improvisers in Surman and Frisell.
Gary Peacock shares front-cover billing with Paul Bley on this 1970 session, but drummer Paul Motian is also present on the first five tracks. (Billy Elgart replaces Motian on the remaining three.) There's a curiously straight-ahead, tempo-driven feel to this short and sweet disc, quite unlike the free aesthetic that Bley, Peacock, and Motian put forward when they returned to ECM as a trio on 1999's Not Two, Not One.
This trio date is dedicated to the music of Annette Peacock, former wife of both pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock. While Bley is the undisputed leader on this date (as he has recorded many of these pieces before), it is flügelhorn and trumpet player Franz Koglmann who arranged them in such an exquisite manner. The majority of the pieces included here were originally composed as songs. They were vehicles for expressing the interior, haunted world that Ms. Peacock inhabits and featured her lilting, edgy voice, which slips and slithers through her deceptively simple melodies before erupting into a shriek of ecstasy or pain.
Bley is an engaging, thoughtful and highly individualistic player who doesn't fit any rigid category. At the time, he was returning to acoustic music after having worked almost exclusively on electric keyboards for several years. This seven-song session (recently reissued on CD) was done on two days in Oslo, Norway in 1974. Bley wrote four numbers, with two others by his ex-wife and frequent collaborator Carla Bley and one by Annette Peacock. No composition was that rhythmically arresting, as Bley stayed mainly in the piano's center, creating nimble melodies, working off them and crafting alternate directions or intriguing counterpoints. It was intellectual, occasionally stiff, but never dull or detached.
Having worked early on with everyone from Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus to Chet Baker and Jimmy Giuffre, Canadian pianist Paul Bley created a solid jazz base for his own distinctly sparse and plaintive style. In the '60s he gravitated toward free jazz, but with less of the freneticism of a Cecil Taylor and more as a melancholic minimalist who would leave his mark on such introverted tinklers as Keith Jarrett. Since the dawn of the '70s, Bley has elaborated on his brand of chamber jazz via a slew of independent jazz labels, including Steeplechase, Soul Note, Owl, and hatART. But it's on the German ECM label where he has scored some of his most impressive triumphs; this 1986 session ranks high among his many solo and group outings for the label.